Doing philosophy

 
 


There are many books on philosophy: introducing it, giving its history, looking
at particular philosophies or particular philosophers. Any recommendations are
subjective and for that I offer no apology. If you want to select your own books
from scratch visit a good bookshop or Amazon. Remember, what you find in books
will only help towards doing philosophy—doing philosophy is an active thing.

Try my book Doing Philosophy. It has challenging ideas and questions across a very broad range of human concerns and will help you get more involved in the activity of practical philosophy.

There are different ways to come at philosophy. If you are interested in or have been affected by grief or death of a loved one try my book Goodbye: grief from beginning to end and its follow up Goodbye II: Later reflections and a conclusion.

If you want to read a fantastical account of the real Socrates on a road trip in the USA then look up my APLtF: A philosopher learns to fly. There’s plenty of philosophy here as well as a sight of what Socrates might have been like in the modern world.

If your taste is for something more fantasy and horror with a deeply metaphysical focus, look up my Blood of the Flock.

If your interest is for fantasy fiction based on real life then try my fictionalized account of the life of the murderer Elizabeth Bathory, Cold Blood: Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the original Dracula.

I you are interested in existential problems then an interesting analysis of detachment from the world and how our grip on reality can easily be lost can be found in Parvus Potentes, Piano People.

If you are interested in the philosophy of time, and in particular whether it is real or not, then look up my Behind Time.


For a fuller list of my writing see the Select Bibliography.


There are three books that make major contributions to our idea of persons, personal identity and how we should act:

Derek Parfait, Reasons and Persons, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1984.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press, 1971.

Singer (ed.), Ethics, Oxford University Press, 1994.


Introduction
Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford University
Press, 1995). This is an excellent compilation of philosophical information with
authoritative and easily accessible articles.

Doing Philosophy
Gerald Rochelle, Doing Philosophy (Edinburgh, Dunedin, 2012). This practical approach to doing philosophy raises and tackles some common and puzzling questions across a wide range of subjects.

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press,
1986), Chapter 15.

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 1.

Nigel Warburton, Thinking from A to Z (London, Routledge, 1996). An
excellent reference to dip into. It lists aspects and types of argument with clear
examples.

Philosophical Terms
John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (4th edition, London,
Routledge, 1997), Chapter 1, ‘Language and Reality’. This is the latest
edition of a very accessible introduction to philosophical analysis.

Nigel Warburton, Thinking from A to Z (London, Routledge, 1996).

Logic
Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press,
1986), Chapters 6 and 7.

Douglas N. Walton, Informal Logic (Cambridge University Press, 1989). A
technical book which, if used with care, is excellent. There are many very
good examples.


Logical Possibility
John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (4th edition, London,
Routledge, 1997), Chapter 4, ‘Scientific Knowledge’, section 4, “Possibility”.

What do we know?
Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press,
1986), Chapters 1, 7 and 11.

René Descartes, Meditations. This is a particularly accessible work written in
non-technical, common-sense language.

Plato, Republic. Plato’s views on knowledge can be found here (Chapter 7
includes the ‘Allegory of the cave’) as well as in Meno and Theaetetus.

Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge University Press,
1981), Chapter 1, ‘Brains in a vat’. One of today’s outstanding philosophers
expounds many of his seminal views in this dense but readable book.

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 22.

Perceiving the World
Richard Feldman, “Evidence”, in Jonathan Dancy and Ernest Sosa, eds, A
Companion to Epistemology (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1994), pp. 119-22. An
interesting and short article on the evidence of our senses.

Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxford University Press, 1988). A
thought provoking book by one of the clearest philosophical writers analysing
our place in the world against central areas of human concern.

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press,
1986), Chapters 2,3,4 and 5.

Mind
Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass., 1988). A
well-organized book which covers most of the fundamental areas of the
philosophy of mind. Includes an interesting chapter on “artificial intelligence”.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book 1, Part 4, Chapter 6.
Although Hume’s language is “old-fashioned” his concepts are penetrating
and crisply expressed.

Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge University Press, 1979),
Chapter 11, “Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness” and Chapter
12, “What is it like to be a bat?”. This collection of essays covers a wide range
of topics dealt with clearly and concisely by one of the world’s greatest living
philosophers.

Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge University Press,
1981), Chapter 1, “Brains in a vat”.

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 4.

Right and Wrong
Susan Haack, “Pragmatism”, in Jonathan Dancy and Ernest Sosa, eds, A
Companion to Epistemology (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1994), pp. 351-7. This is
a succinct review of the pragmatism of Peirce, James and Dewey.

Peter Singer, Ethics (Oxford University Press, 1994). A thought provoking
collection of papers by philosophers on a wide range of ethical topics.

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 20.

Equality
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Oxford, Blackwell, 1998). A
seminal philosophical work which first appeared in 1974 (as an argument
against Rawls). Nozick analyses the place of the individual in the state and in
so doing covers most of the aspects of human concern in the larger social
environment. Though clearly written this is a dense, philosophical piece.

Plato, Republic. Plato’s discussion of the nature of the state also includes his
thoughts on his much wider philosophy. Although a complete book in itself it is
best accessed in parts.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press, 1999). Rawls’ book,
first published in 1971, has inspired most political philosophy of the later
twentieth century. It is a difficult book but has a detailed contents list which
makes it accessible.

Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (Oxford University
Press, 1996). A clear exposition of the essential ingredients of political
philosophy. The ideas of major thinkers is set out under sensible and
accessible headings.

God
Paul Helm, ed., Faith and Reason (Oxford University Press, 1999). An
excellent collection of abstracts covering aspects of God and faith.

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 11.

Science
Anthony O’Hear, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1989). A balanced and accessible analysis of the main
topics of the subject. His Beyond Evolution (Oxford University Press, 1997)
may also be of interest but it is not easy to read and, because it is a complete
argument, should be treated with care if looked at only partially.

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 15.

Time
Raymond Flood and Michael Lockwood, eds, The Nature of Time (Oxford,
Basil Blackwell, 1988). A collection of authoritative articles on time that
provide a good introduction to some of the areas of this puzzling subject.

Gerald Rochelle, Behind Time (London, Ashgate, 1998)

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 25.

G.J. Whitrow, The Natural Philosophy of Time (Oxford, Clarendon Press,
1984). A comprehensive account of the concept of time and its role in the
different sciences.

G.J. Whitrow, Time in History (Oxford University Press, 1989). A concise
appraisal of the changing nature of our concept of time in history. Although
not concentrating on the nature of time, this book highlights the “artificiality” of
many of our views on time.

Human Rights
Hugh LaFollette, (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (Oxford, Blackwell,
1997).

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, (ed.), M. Warnock (London, Collins/Fontana,
1962). Mill is not easily read but much of his work is seminal to contemporary
Western culture.

Freedom and Determinism
Hugh LaFollette, (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (Oxford, Blackwell,
1997).

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, (ed.), M. Warnock (London, Collins/Fontana,
1962).

Politics, Equality, and the State of the World
R. Grimsley, The Philosophy of Rousseau (Oxford University Press, 1973).
Sound introduction to Rousseau’s philosophy.

Hugh LaFollette, (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (Oxford, Blackwell,
1997).

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, (ed.), M. Warnock (London, Collins/Fontana,
1962).

Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?” in Mortal Questions (Cambridge
University Press, 1979). Nagel’s intriguing paper is one of the few attempts in
philosophy to describe what it might be like to be a member of another living
species.

Plato, The Republic. The Republic shows Socrates’ skill in argument and
develops not only the plan for the perfect state and how it should be run but
also the best possible standards for human life.

J. Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press,
1996). An excellent synopsis of all the important questions dealt with clearly.
Includes some good further reading advice.

David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005).
A marvellous analysis of the modern free-market economy.

War
A.J. Coates, The Ethics of War (Manchester University Press, 1997).
Authoritative and accessible, Coates’ work analyses all the important areas
involved in this subject and provides good advice on further reading.

Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge University Press, 1979). Nagel’s
famous book covers important questions concerning personal meaning,
nature and value in both practical and abstract forms. His human approach to
philosophy is easy to identify with and his authority is immense.

Punishment
Hugh LaFollette, (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (Oxford, Blackwell,
1997).

Abortion
Hugh LaFollette, (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (Oxford, Blackwell,
1997).

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1993). A clear and
comprehensive coverage of all the difficult and controversial ethical issues
facing us today from one of the world’s philosophical authorities on the
subject.

Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defence of Abortion” in Peter Singer, (ed.), Applied
Ethics (Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 37-56. This seminal defence of
abortion is included in Singer’s outstanding collection of essays on applied
ethics.

Euthanasia
Hugh LaFollette, (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (Oxford, Blackwell,
1997).

Animal Rights
Tom Regan and Peter Singer (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligation
(Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ., 1989). A collection of work made by the two foremost
philosophical authorities on the subject.

Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (London, Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1984). Regan’s original case for animal rights.

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Genetics
Steve Jones, The Language of Genes: Solving the Mysteries of our Genetic
Past, Present and Future (London, Anchor, 1995). High quality popular
science which discusses all areas of interest in this subject.

Death, Immortality, Reincarnation, and the Meaning of Life
Gerald Rochelle, Goodbye: grief from beginning to end (Cambridge House, Nottingham, 2013)

Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge University Press, 1979),
Chapter 1, “Death”. A succinct review of the major elements Nagel attaches to
death and our attitude towards it. The question (and others on life) are
addressed in his The View From Nowhere (Oxford University Press, 1986).

Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? (Oxford University Press, 1987). A
brief elegantly written introduction to all the major topics of philosophy from
one of the most enlightened modern philosophers alive today.

Robert Nozick, The Examined Life (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1989).
Written in an personal and accessible style, this challenging book discusses
(and makes clearer) many of the doubts and concerns we have about
ourselves as individuals in a confusing world.

Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London, Mandarin, 1996), Chapter 21
“Life, Death and Identity”. Scruton is easy to read and his book contains many
other topics of interested to the philosophically minded.

E.D. Klemke (ed.), The Meaning of Life (Oxford University Press, 2000). A fine
collection of essays that capture a full range of ideas on both general and 
personal meaning.

Evolution
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1992).

Genesis 1-2

Julian Huxley, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (London, George Allen and
Unwin, 1942).

Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of
History (London, Vintage, 2000).

Steve Jones, Almost like a Whale: the origin of the species updated (London,
Doubleday, 1999).

Cosmology
William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang
Cosmology (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995).

John Leslie, Universes (London, Routledge, 1996).

M.K. Munitz, Theories of the Universe from Babylonian Myth to Modern
Science (Glencoe, IL, Free Press, 1957).

Love
C.D.C. Reeve, Love's Confusions (London, Harvard University Press, 2005).

H.G. Frankfurt, The Reasons of Love (Princeton University Press, 2004).


Looking Further
In order to study philosophy it is necessary to look at the original works of
philosophers. These can be found as abstracts in collections of classical or
topic-based texts or by referring to the complete work. It should be
emphasised that philosophical works, though often expounding complete
arguments, are sometimes best accessed in small doses. Particularly dense
works, such as those by Kant, say so much in a short space that the best
benefit can be had from looking carefully at (then thinking about or
discussing) only one particular section. The recommendations here are only a
selection of possibilities.

The Oxford Past Masters Series give excellent, brief introductions to most
notable Philosophers including: Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Locke, Plato
and Wittgenstein.


Nigel Warburton, The Classics (London, Routledge, 1998). Outlines the
arguments together with criticisms of important philosophers including: Plato,
Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, J.S. Mill and Wittgenstein.


Nigel Warburton, Basic Readings (London, Routledge, 1999). A collection of
well-chosen extracts by important philosophers on: “What is Philosophy”,
“God”, “Right and Wrong”, “Politics”, “The External World”, “Science”, “Mind”,
“Art”.


Descartes: Selected Philosophical Writings, trans. by J. Cottingham, R.
Stoothoff and D. Murdoch, ed., J. Cottingham, 2 vols, (Cambridge University
Press, 1988). Descartes is very easy to read and his ground-breaking work is
essential reading.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd edition, ed. P.H. Nidditch
(Oxford University Press, 1978). Hume’s work covers a wide range of topics
and is recommended to be taken part at a time.

Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in H.J. Paton, The
Moral Law (London, Hutchinson, 1976). This is more accessible than his
masterpiece the Critique of Pure Reason and is introduced extensively by
Paton.

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. P. Nidditch
(Oxford University Press, 1975). Locke’s work, like Hume’s, is best taken in
small doses.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ed. M. Warnock (London, Collins/Fontana, 1962).
Mill is not easily read but much of his work is seminal to contemporary
Western culture.

Aristotle, Physics and Metaphysics contain much of Aristotle’s thoughts on the
nature of the world and reality. The works of Aristotle are most likely copies of
his lecture notes or academic papers (whereas the works in existence of Plato
are those he wrote for consumption by the public) and as such give an
impression of “dryness”. He is however, very readable. Aristotle’s thoughts
are supremely incisive and compact and his work lends itself well to close
reading of small passages. Anyone wishing to look more closely at Greek
philosophy would get a feeling for some names and concepts by looking at: J.
V. Luce, An Introduction to Greek Philosophy (London, Thames and Hudson,
1992), an excellent introduction to all the major topics of Greek philosophy
and, for someone new to Greek philosophy, probably the best place to start;
and Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy (Penguin, Harmondsworth,
1987) which is very accessible and easy to read. Anyone wanting to be
introduced to this fascinating aspect of philosophy would be well-advised to
delve into these.


Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford, Basil Blackwell,
1988). Many students might find this an unusual book (it is broken down into
brief, numbered propositions) but it is worth looking at closely. Wittgenstein
was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century.


Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? (Oxford University Press, 1987). A
brief elegantly written introduction to all the major topics of philosophy from
one of the most enlightened modern philosophers alive today.


Iain Hampsher-Monk, A History of Modern Political Thought (Oxford, Blackwell,
1992) one of the best introductions to the history of political theory which
includes accounts of most of the philosophers mentioned here.


Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Oxford, Blackwell, 1974). Nozick’s
conservative views of the state are a central (and essential) piece of 20th
century philosophy. Although dense, this is still a readable book. Its contents
form the pattern of a whole argument but, via a full table of contents, each
element can be separately accessed.

Derek Parfait, Reasons and Persons (Oxford, Clarendon Press), 1984.


John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press, 1971, revised
1999). Reckoned to be probably the most important contribution to political
philosophy in the 20th century, Rawls describes two principles of justice by
which a state can regulate liberties, social and economic goods.

Peter Singer (ed), Ethics (Oxford University Press), 1994.


Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, trans. by Hugh Tredennick
(Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1954), brings together Plato’s works connected
with the imprisonment and death of Socrates. The biographical work on
Socrates is deeply moving and provides us with one of the best examples in
history of a happy and good death. The individual books concerned are:
Euthyphro, The Apology, Crito and Phaedo. Any of Plato’s work is easy to
read (in that it is in itself elegant literature), however, the concepts are difficult
and need to be studied with care. The Republic famously shows Socrates’ skill
in argument and develops not only the plan for the perfect state and how it
should be run but also the best possible standards for human life.

Booklist